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15 Most Outrageous Faked Musical Performances

After the Chili Peppers’ instantly infamous “unplugged” performance at the Super Bowl, we revisit some notorious acts of fakery

red hot chili peppers super bowl

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During this past weekend's Super Bowl halftime show, a few eagle-eyed people among the hundreds of millions watching at home noticed something odd about the Red Hot Chili Peppers' performance: No cords or cables were plugged into Flea's bass or Josh Klinghoffer's guitar. After a brief uproar, Flea admitted in an open letter, "When we were asked by the NFL and Bruno [Mars] to play our song 'Give It Away' at the Super Bowl, it was made clear to us that the vocals would be live, but the bass, drums and guitar would be prerecorded," he wrote. "I understand the NFL's stance on this, given they only have a few minutes to set up the stage, there a zillion things that could go wrong and ruin the sound for the folks watching in the stadium and the T.V. viewers." 

But, of course, there is a long history of our favorite pop stars only pretending to sing and play. Here are some of the most embarrassing, funniest and just plain weirdest instances of musicians demonstrating their miming skills. By Daniel Kreps

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Eminem’s Shady Rapping

Nearly a decade after the Ashlee Simpson incident, Saturday Night Live was the scene of another controversial lip-sync. While Eminem's November 2013 performance didn't result in the rapper running off the stage, his renditions of "Berzerk" and "Rap God" did feature some instances where you could hear his voice even though his lips weren't moving. Countless headlines accusing Slim Shady of miming arrived on Monday, with the uproar so loud that Em's spokesperson said that the rapper "doubles his vocals live. Rhymes over a vocal track. He only does it sporadically through the songs. They're accent tracks."

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‘Top of the Pops’ Tradition of Mimicry

For over 40 years, everyone from the Rolling Stones to Madonna to Beyoncé stopped by the BBC's weekly Top of the Pops to perform their latest single as either a lip-sync or sing along with a prerecorded backing track. It was a tradition, a rite of passage: You went on the U.K. equivalent of American Bandstand and pretended to perform live. However, not everyone was willing to play along with the charade. Notably, Morrissey "sang" into a fern instead of a microphone during the Smiths' 1984 TOTP performance of "This Charming Man." The best rebellious Top of the Pops performance goes to Nirvana, though: In 1991, using the prerecorded track, the band didn't even pretend to play their instruments while Kurt Cobain sang the track in a deep-voiced style inspired by, of all people, Morrissey. 

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Even the Beatles Did It

This is the Beatles performing on the Thank Your Lucky Stars program in 1963. Notice anything missing? Not only are the band's guitars not plugged in – à la the Chili Peppers at the Super Bowl – but the stage is also completely lacking any microphones. At the time, the rampant miming on shows like this and Top of the Pops led viewers to revolt against the programs, ultimately leading to Thank Your Lucky Stars' cancellation in 1966. 

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Nicki Mirage

Nicki Minaj has faced a couple of lip-syncing accusations since her career took off. The first one came at the BET Awards in 2010 after many fans complained that Minaj had simply mimed her performance. Nicki instead blamed the soundman for the mix-up, adding that one "could hear me in the auditorium but apparently not in TV land." However, similar lip-sync charges were thrown at Minaj following high-profile performances at both American Idol and the Super Bowl XVLIII halftime show.

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Mariah Carey’s West Coast Surprise

Mariah Carey, like her fellow American Idol judge and arch-nemesis Nicki Minaj, was also accused of miming. Her controversy arose as a result of a Good Morning America performance in May 2013, but it turned out the singer was only lip-syncing on the West Coast. Carey actually sang "#Beautiful" with Miguel in Central Park for the live East Coast broadcast, but the performance was so pitchy that GMA's sound techs had to go in and replace the audio track with the studio version for the West Coast feed. While the East Coast teased Carey's poor singing, three hours later the West Coast laughed at her even-worse lip-syncing. 

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Oops . . . Britney Did It Again

After Britney Spears' nightmare "Gimme More" at the VMAs, you'd think the singer would have a little lingering PTSD about miming onstage. However, following the release of 2009's Circus, Spears embarked on her first post-breakdown tour. Britney's Circus concerts involved an elaborate stage design, intricate dancing, a career-spanning set list. . . and absolutely no live singing. For the first few dates, fans bemoaned Spears' lack of singing – she'd only have an open mic to make banter between songs – but the Circus tour was still a major success, ending its run as the fifth highest-grossing trek of the year. 

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MF Doom’s Masked Men

For the past half-decade, masked rapper MF Doom has perpetrated one of music's cruelest pranks. Because the Madvillain MC hides behind a Dr. Doom-style costume, nobody is entirely sure what he really looks like. As a result, Doom is notorious for sending impostors onstage to lip-sync to his tracks. "The character that I hired, he got paid for it. There's no impostor," Doom revealed on 2009. "When I go to a show, I'm going to hear the music. I'm not going to see no particular person." 

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Death Grips Lollapalooza Lark

Taking a page from the MF Doom "Is this art?" playbook, Death Grips pulled a similar stunt during a Lollapalooza aftershow in 2012. Chicago's Bottom Lounge was the setting for the prank: Instead of actually performing, the duo instead  had someone project a faux suicide note while the Death Grips' studio recordings played over the club's speakers. When it became evident that the band would not be performing, the angry crowd destroyed Zack Hill's drum set. The band themselves were reportedly in Sacramento, probably laughing their asses off. The Death Grips' Lollapalooza gig the next day and their subsequent East Coast tour were swiftly canceled.

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Jay Z Paces Himself

Jay Z and Kanye West's marathon in-concert renditions of "Niggas in Paris" were just a warm-up for Jigga's next endurance test: Performing "Picasso Baby" for six hours inside New York's Pace Gallery. However, those lucky enough to attend the celeb-filled event soon found out that the rapper lip-synced at various points throughout. The "performance" ended up becoming the glorified music video Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film

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Jimmy Fallon’s Lip-Sync Duels

Lip-syncing has become a staple of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, soon to be The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. The late-night host and his celebrity guests turned miming into a competition. Fallon first faced off against John Krasinski, but the truly epic battle came when Fallon challenged Stephen Merchant and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 

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The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Super Bowl Surprise

10 years after the Janet Jackson nipplegate incident, the powers-that-be at the NFL are still not interested in too much spontanaiety happening during their biggest event, the Super Bowl. So while Red Hot Chili Peppers' frontman Anthony Kiedis was allowed to sing live, the rest of the band was neither miked up nor plugged in, lest any unexpected glitches disrupt the spectacle.